Micromotives and Macrobehavior - Operations, Information and


Micromotives and Macrobehavior - Operations, Information and
Sponsored by the Fels Center of
Government, the University of Pennsylvania
and Macrobehavior
The Limits of Organization / KENNETHJ. ARROW
Power and the Structure of Society / JAMESS. COLEMAN
The Moon and the Ghetto / RICHARDR. NELSON
Micromotives and Macrobehavior / THOMASC. SCHELUNG
WAS INVITED once to give a
lecture to a large audience; the program was to begin at 8:00
in the evening. I followed my escort into the building through
the stage entrance and stood in the wings as a microphone was
put around my neck. I could see the first dozen rows: nobody
had arrived. I assumed that 8:00 meant 8:15, as it might at an
academic gathering, and was puzzled when my host walked on
stage, nodded to the rows of empty seats, and went through
the motions of introducing me. Resisting slightly, I was pushed
gently out of the wings and toward the rostrum.
There were eight hundred people in the hall, densely
packed from the thirteenth row to the distant rear wall. Feeling a little as though I were addressing a crowd on the opposite bank of a river, I gave my lecture. Afterwards, I a.sked my
hosts why they had arranged the seating that way.
They hadn't.
There were no seating arrangements and no ushers. The
arrangement was voluntary, and could only reflect the preferences of the audience. What are we to suppose those preferences were?
It is possible that everybody preferred the whole audience
to pack itself into the two dozen rows toward the rear. leaving
the first dozen vacant. But, except for any example he set,
nobody controlled where anybody else sat. People did not vote
with their bottoms on a seating plan. All they did was to
choose where to sit from among the available seats they could
see as they scanned the hall while walking down the aisle.
Can we guess what policy people followed in choosing
their seats? I should add that, as far as I could tell, nothing
differentiated the people in different rows. People toward the
front or rear did not seem to be older or better dressed or predominately male or female. Those in the front-the thirteenth
row-may have seemed more attentive than the rest but they
probably knew that, even at that distance, I could see their
eyelids droop or their heads nod, and were motivated to stay
a little more alert.
Curious as I was, I neglected to ask my hosts about the
order in which the different rows were filled. Did they fill in
sequence from back to front? Did people distribute themselves
at random among the rearward two dozen rows? Or did the
first arrivals fill the thirteenth row, later arrivals filling the rows
in sequence toward the rear? That last is improbable: it would
be a coincidence if the earliest arrivals had chosen a forward
boundary that would ultimately hold, densely packed, exactly
the number of people who showed up. The dynamics
had to be consistent with the populating of a compact area by
people who could not know how many would be arriving later.
There are several reasons we might interest ourselves in
what it is that those people were doing, or thought they were
doing, or were trying to do, when they seated themselves in
that way. One is that we do not like the result; we prefer they
all be in the first twenty-four rows, not the last twenty-four, or
distributed over the whole auditorium. If we want to change
the pattern with a minimum of organization, interfering as
little as possible with the preferences of the audience, we need
to know whether we can subtly change their incentives or their
perceptions of the auditorium so that they will "voluntarily"
choose a better seating pattern.
And before we do any such thing we ought to know
whether the audience itself likes the seating arrangement that
it chose, and whether the fact that they chose their seats as
they did is evidence that they must be satisfied with the outcome.
A second reason for interest is that there may be something
about this process that reminds us of other situations in which
people locate themselves voluntarily in some pattern that does
not possess evident advantages even for the people who by
their own choices form the pattern. Residential location is an
example. This laboratory experiment in the auditorium can
give us hints of what to look for in other situations.
My immediate purpose in inviting you to speculate on the
motives that led to that seating pattern is neither to develop a
handbook of auditorium management nor to draw analogies
with residential choice or the behavior of crowds or the filling
of parking lots. It is to give a vivid example of what this book
is about. What this book is about is a kind of analysis that is
characteristic of a large part of the social sciences, especially
the more theoretical part. That kind of analysis explores the
relation between the behavior characteristics of the individuals
who comprise some social aggregate, and the characteristics of
the aggregate.
This analysis sometimes uses what is known about individual .intentions to predict the aggregates: if we know that
people entering an auditorium have a sociable desire to sit
near somebody but always to leave one empty seat between
them, we can predict something about the pattern that will
appear when.the entire audience has arrived. Alternatively this
kind of analysis may do what I invited you to do-to try to
figure out what intentions, or modes of behavior, of separate
individuals could lead to the pattern we observed. If there are
several plausible behaviors that could lead to what we
observed, we can look for evidence by which to choose among
There are easy cases, of course, in which the aggregate is
merely an extrapolation from the individual. If we know that
every driver, on his own, turns his lights on at sundown, we
can guess that from our helicopter we shall see all the car
lights in a local area going on at about the same time. We
could even get our compass bearings by reflecting that the cascade of lights on the Massachusetts Turnpike will flow westward as dusk settles. But if most people turn their lights on
when some fraction of the oncoming cars already have their
lights on, we'll get a different picture from our helicopter. In
the second case, drivers are responding to each other's behav-
ior and influencing each other's behavior. People are responding to an environment that consists of other people responding
to their environment, which consists of people responding to
an environment of people's responses. Sometimes the dynamics
are sequential: if your lights induce me to turn mine on, mine
may induce somebody else but not you. Sometimes the
dynamics are reciprocal: hearing your car horn, I honk mine,
thus encouraging you to honk more insistently.
These situations, in which people's behavior or people's
choices depend on the behavior or the choices of other people,
are the ones that usually don't permit any simple summation or
extrapolation to the aggregates. To make that connection we
usually have to look at the system of interaction between individuals and their enviromnent, that is, between individuals
and other individuals or between individuals and the collectivity. And sometimes the results are surprising. Sometimes they
are not easily guessed. Sometimes the analysis is difficult.
Sometimes it is inconclusive. But even inconclusive analysis
can warn against jumping to conclusions about individual
intentions from observations of aggregates, or jumping to conclusions about the behavior of aggregates from what one
knows or can guess about individual intentions.
Return to that audience of mine and speculate a little on
the motives that might lead people to sit as they did. (We
needn't assume that they all had the same intentions.) What
are some plausible conjectures-alternative
what it is that those people were doing that could lead to the
result I described? How do we evaluate the result in the light
of each hypothesis? How might we influence the result,
according to diHerent hypotheses? How much leeway does
each hypothesis allow for the role of chance, or architecture?
And can we investigate the several hypotheses, to choose
among them, or to reject them all and keep looking?
An obvious possibility is that everybody likes to sit as
close to the rear as possible. The earliest arrivals get to sit farthest to the rear; late arrivals can wish they had come earlier,
but there's no way to improve on the outcome for the whole
audience by switching people around because for everybody
we might switch to the rear there would be somebody who
had to go forward. Blocking off the last dozen rows would
translate them all a dozen seats forward, if that's where we
want them.
A second possibility, not the same thing, is that everybody
wants to sit to the rear of everybody else-not to the rear of
the hall, just behind the other people. (Maybe they like to get
out first afterward.) They may prefer everybody else to be as
far forward as possible, so they, too, can be as far forward as
possible, still staying behind everybody. To do that the early
arrivals sit far enough back to make allowance for later arrivals, who then sit behind them, not forward; or, if the early
arrivals attribute the same behavior to those who will come
later, they have to choose the row farthest to the rear or
people will crowd in behind them. Again, blocking off the last
dozen rows will translate them all forward, if that's where we
want them, and maybe that's where they'd like to be. They just
didn't get there.
A third possibility is that everybody wants to sit where he
is close to people, either to be sociable or to avoid being conspicuously alone. If the first few arrivals happen to sit toward
the rear, later arrivals will congregate there until the populated area has reached the back. From then on there's no room
except toward the front, and to be near people the last arrivals
fill the rows immediately forward of those who are already
there. If we could get the first few people to sit toward the
front, the same process would lead to the reverse result: late
arrivals, finding the front full, would fill the rows immediately behind. Either way the early arrivals get surrounded and
everybody is bunched. But in one case they are sitting down
front and in the other toward the rear. We may like one result
better. Or they may like it better.
A fourth possibility is that everybody likes to watch the
audience come in, as people do at weddings. To avoid craning
their necks and being seen staring, they sit as far to the rear as
possible and watch as people walk by and down the aisle.
Once the audience is seated there is no advantage in sitting to
the rear-either to the rear of the other people, or to the rear
of the auditorium. If we could estimate the size of the crowd
and block off the back rows, everybody could indulge his
sightseeing and be twelve rows closer to what's going on, and
there wouldn't be that embarrassing moat between the speaker
and the audience. Or if we had people enter from the front
instead of the rear, the early arrivals could combine better
seats in front with the same opportunity to watch later arrivals
come in.
Still another hypothesis is that most members of the audience developed their seating habits in other times and places,
where they found disadvantages in sitting down front. Without
thinking about it, they sat toward the rear as they always do,
later realizing perhaps that there was no teacher to call on students in the front row and that they could just as well have sat
forward and seen and heard better. And so forth. We could
even propose that people are merely tired and take the nearest
vacant seat when they enter the room. But that behavior
would have to be coupled with a rule of decorum-that
first person in any row must go midway between the two aisles
and the next people must move alongside to minimize the
climbing over-for this "minimum effort" hypothesis to give us
the result we observed.
There is one hypothesis that I find interesting because it is
so minimal, yet sufficient. This is that nobody cares where he
sits, as long as it's not in the very front-not in the first occupied
row. Out of two dozen rows that might be partially filled, a
person is indifferent among 23 of them. He just does not want
to sit in the first one.
Actually, everybody may want to sit as far forward as possible, subject to the single proviso that he not be in the first
occupied row. To be on the safe side, and not knowing how
large the audience will be, people sit toward the rear; as it
begins to look as though most of the audience has arrived,
people will climb over seated people to occupy empty seats in
the crowded section rather than enter that vacant row just in
front of everybody else.
Somebody, of course, ends up sitting in front of everybody.
And they might all be just as happy, or happier, if the entire
audience were shifted 12 rows forward. The people in the
other 23 rows surely would prefer to have the whole crowd
shifted forward.
An even weaker hypothesis is that people don't even mind
being in the very first occupied row as long as the rows immediately behind them are filled, so they are not conspicuously
down front by themselves. That can lead to the same result.
Purposive Behavior
Notice that in all of these hypotheses there is a notion of
people's having preferences, pursuing goals, minimizing effort
or embarrassment or maximizing view or comfort, seeking
company or avoiding it, and otherwise behaving in a way that
we might call "purposive." Furthermore, the goals or purposes
or objectives relate directly to other people and their behavior,
or are constrained by an environment that consists of other
people who are pursuing their goals or their purposes or their
objectives. What we typically have is a mode of contingent
behavior-behavior that depends on what others are doing.
In other sciences, and sometimes in the social sciences, we
metaphorically ascribe motives to behavior because something
behaves as if it were oriented toward a goal. Water seeks its
own level. Nature abhors a vacuum. Soap bubbles minimize
surface tension and light travels a path that, allowing for different speeds through different media, minimizes travel time.
But if we fill a J-shaped tube with water and close the lower
end so that the water in the pipe cannot achieve its own level,
nobody really supposes that the water feels frustrated. And if
we then open the lower end of the tube so that most of the
water spills on the Boor, nobody imputes shortsightedness to
the water for having only spilt itself in seeking its own level.
Most of us don't think that light is really in a hurry. Lately
there are some amongst us who think that sunflowers are
anguished if they cannot follow the sun, and we are told that
leaves seek positions on trees that divide the sunlight among
them to maximize photosynthesis. If we are in the lumber business we like the leaves to succeed, but not for their sake; we
might not even be sure whether the leaves are acting on their
own or are merely slaves to an enzyme, or parts of a chemical
system for which words like "purpose" and "seek" are wholly
nonascriptive and nonevaluative.
But with people it's different. When we analyze how
people behave in trying to escape from a burning building we
mean that they really are trying to escape. They are not simply
acting "as if" they dislike being burnt. With people, in contrast
to light beams and water, we usually believe we are dealing
with conscious decisions or adaptations in the pursuit of goals,
immediate or remote, within the limits of their information and
their comprehension of how to navigate through their environment toward whatever their objectives are. In fact, we can
often ascribe to people some capacity to solve problems-to
calculate or to perceive intuitively how to get from here to
there. And if we know what problem a person is trying to
solve, and if we think he actually can solve it, and if we can
solve it too, we can anticipate what our subject will do by putting ourself in his place and solving his problem as we think he
sees it. This is the method of "vicarious problem solving" that
underlies most of microeconomics.
An advantage in dealing with "goal-seeking" unconscious
substances, like the water that seeks its own level or, in biology, the genes that seek to protect and proliferate genes like
themselves, is that we are not likely to forget that the motives
we ascribe are no more than a convenience of expression, a
suggestive analogy or a useful formula. With people, we can
get carried away with our image of goal seeking and problem
solving. We can forget that people pursue misguided goals or
don't know their goals, an? that they enjoy or suffer subconscious processes that deceive them about their goals. And we
can exaggerate how much good is accomplished when people
achieve the goals we think they think they have been pursuing.
Nevertheless, this style of analysis undeniably invites evaluation. It is hard to explore what happens when people behave
with a purpose without becoming curious, even concerned,
about how well or how badly the outcome serves the purpose.
Social scientists are more like forest rangers than like naturalists. The naturalist can be interested in what causes a species
to become extinct, without caring whether or not it does
become extinct. (If it has been extinct for a million years his
curiosity is surely without concern.) The ranger will be concerned with whether or not the buffalo do disappear, and how
to keep them in a healthy balance with their environment.
What makes this evaluation interesting and difficult is that
the entire aggregate outcome is what has to be evaluated, not
merely how each person does within the constraints of his own
environment. In a burning building it may be wise to run, not
walk, to the nearest exit, especially if everybody else is running; what has to be evaluated is how many get safely out of
the building if, each doing the best he can to save himself,
they all run. Everyone who entered my auditorium may have
done a good job of picking the best seat available at the
moment he entered the room. (Some may have wished, after
all eight hundred had taken their seats, that they had sat a
little farther front when they saw where everybody else sat
and how many others arrived.) But the most interesting question is not how many people would like to change their seats
after they see where everybody else is sitting; it is whether
some altogether different seating arrangement might better
serve the purposes of many, or most, or all of them.
How well each does for himself in adapting to his social '.
environment is not the same thing as how satisfactory a social
environment they collectively create for themselves.
Market Behavior
Among the social sciences the one that conforms most to
the kind of analysis I have been describing is economics. In
economics the "individuals" are people, families, owners of
farms and businesses, taxi drivers, managers of banks and
insurance companies, doctors and school teachers and soldiers,
and people who work for the banks and the mining companies.
Most people, whether they drive their own taxis or manage
continent-wide airlines, are expected to know very little about
the whole economy and the way it works. They know the
prices of the things they buy and sell, the interest rates at
which they lend and borrow, and something about the pertinent alternatives to the ways they are currently earning their
living or running their business or spending their money. The
dairy farmer doesn't need to know how many people eat butter
and how far away they are, how many other people raise cows,
how many babies drink milk, or whether more money is spent
on beer than on milk. What he needs to know is the prices of
different feeds, the characteristics of different cows, the different prices farmers are getting for milk according to its butter
fat content, the relative costs of hired labor and electrical
machinery, and what his net earnings might be if he sold his
cows and raised pigs instead or sold his farm and took the best
job for which he's qualified in some city he is willing to live in.
Somehow all of the activities seem to get coordinated.
There's a taxi to get you to the airport. There's butter and
cheese for lunch on the airplane. There are refineries to make
the airplane fuel and trucks to transport it, cement for the runways, electricity for the escalators, and, most important of all,
passengers who want to fly where the airplanes are going.
The fact that there is never a taxi when you need one in the
rain, or that you can fly 3,000 miles more comfortably than you
can fly 300 and flights are occasionally overbooked, reminds us
how spoiled we are. We expect this fantastically complex
system to be even better coordinated than it sometimes is.
Tens of millions of people making billions of decisions every
week about what to buy and what to sell and where to work
and how much to save and how much to borrow and what
orders to fill and what stocks to accumulate and where to
move and what schools to go to and what jobs to take and
where to build the supermarkets and movie theatres and electric power stations, when to invest in buildings above ground
and mine shafts underground and fleets of trucks and ships
and aircraft-if you are in a mood to be amazed, it can amaze
you that the system works at all. Amazement needn't be admiration: once you understand the system you may think there
are better ones, or better ways to make this system work. I am
only inviting you to reflect that whether this system works well
or ill, in most countries and especially the countries with comparatively undirected economic systems, the system works the
way ant colonies work.
It is generally not believed that any ant in an ant colony
knows how the ant colony works. Each ant has certain things
that it does, in coordinated association with other ants, but
there is nobody minding the whole store. No ant designed the
system. An important part of social biology is relating the
world of the individual ant to the world of the ant colony. TheI
colony is full of patterns and regularities and balanced proportions among different activities, with maintenance and repair
and exploration and even mobilization for emergencies. But no
individual ant knows whether there are too few or too many
ants exploring for food or rebuilding after a thunderstorm or
helping to carry in the carcass of a beetle. Each ant lives in its
own little world, responding to the other ants in its immediate
environment and responding to signals of which it does not
know the origin. Why the system works as it does, and as
effectively as it does, is a dynamic problem of social and
genetic evolution. How it works-how it is that the limited set
of choices made by each ant within its own truncated little
world translates, in the aggregate, into the rich and seemingly
meaningful pattern of aggregate behavior by which we
describe the society and the economy of the ant-is a question
akin to the question of how it is that all the cows know how
much milk is needed to make the butter and the cheese and
the ice cream that people will buy at a price that covers the
cost of maintaining and milking the cow and getting each little
piece of butter wrapped in aluminum foil with the airline's
own insignia printed on it.
What I asked you to be amazed at, and not necessarily to
admire,\is simply the enormous complexity of the entire collective system of behavior, a system that the individuals who
comprise the system needn't know anything about or even be
aware of. If we see pattern and order and regularity, we
should withhold judgment about whether it is the pattern and
order of a jungle, a slave system, or a community infested by
parasitic diseases, and inquire first of all what it is that the
individuals who comprise the system seem to be doing and
how it is that their actions, in the large, produce the patterns
we see. Then we can try to evaluate whether, at least according to what the individuals are trying to do, the resulting pattern is in some way responsive to their intentions.
In economics it often appears that a lot of this unmanaged
and unguided individual activity leads to aggregate results
that are not too bad, indeed about as good as could be
expected if somebody took command and figured out what
ought to be done and had a way to get everybody to do what
he was supposed to do. Two hundred years ago Adam Smith
characterized the system as one that worked as if some unseen
hand brought about the coordination.
Actually, economists do not usually make careful observations, compare what they observe with alternatives they can
imagine, and judge the results to be good. What they do is to
infer, from what they take to be the behavior characteristics of
people, some of the characteristics of the system as a whole,
and deduce some evaluative conclusions. If Canadian farmers
ship too many Christmas trees to Albany and not enough to
Buffalo, sellers in Buffalo will be able to sell their trees for
more than trees are going for in Albany and somebody will buy
trees in Albany and send them overnight by truck to Buffalo
and the next day there will be a more "balanced" distribution
of trees between the two cities, the balance reflecting how
badly people in the two cities want Christmas trees compared
with the other things that their money will buy. And so forth.
The result is often characterized by the statement that "the
market works." By "market" is meant the entire complex of
institutions within which people buy and sell and hire and are
hired and borrow and lend and trade and contract and shop
around to find bargains. A lot may be wrong with the deductive reasoning of economists, but when they state the conclusion carefully and modestly they have a point. The free market
may not do much, or anything, to distribute opportunities and
resources among people the way you or I might like them distributed, and it may not lead people to like the activities we
wish thzy liked or to want to consume the things we wish they
wanted to consume; it may encourage individualist rather than
group values and it may fail to protect people against their
own shortsightedness and self-indulgence. It may lead to
asymmetrical personal relationships between employee and
employer, lender and borrower, and attach too much status to
material attainments. The market may even perform disastrously where inflation and depression are concerned. Still,
within those serious limitations, it does remarkably well in
coordinating or harmonizing or integrating the efforts of myriads of self-serving individuals and organizations.
For my purpose there's no need to reach a judgment about
just how well the "free market" does what is attributed to it, or
whether it does it at a price worth paying. I am interested here
in how much promise the economist's result has outside economics. If economists have studied the matter for two hundred
years and many of them have concluded that a comparatively
unrestricted free market is often an advantageous way of letting individuals interact with each other, should we suppose
that the same is true in all the rest of those social activities, the
ones that do not fall under the heading of economics, in which
people impinge upon people as they go about pursuing their
own interests? Presently I shall enumerate and discuss some of
those other activities (aside from choosing seats in an auditorium ), but as illustration let me mention the languages we
speak and how we speak them, whom we marry and whether
we have children and what names we give our children, whom
we live near and whom we choose for friends, what games we
play and what customs we develop, what fashions we pursue,
whether we walk the streets or stay indoors, how we drive cars
or make noise or smoke in public, the pets we keep and how
we manage them. Then there are eating and drinking habits,
and the times of day for going to lunch; littering and habits of
cleanliness and sanitation; the transmission of jokes and gossip
and news and useful information; the formation of parties and
movements; and whether we wait in line for our turn.
All of these are activities in which people's behavior is
influenced by the behavior of others, or people care about the
behavior of others, or they both care and are influenced. Most
of these activities are substantially free of centralized management in many societies, including our own, or subject to sanctions and proscriptions that work indirectly. (The dictionary
may eventually tell me what a seven-year-old means by "dynamite," but that's not where the seven-year-old learned to say
it.) And though people may care how it all comes out in the
aggregate, their own decisions and their own behavior are typically motivated toward their own interests, and often
impinged on by only a local fragment of the overall pattern.
Hardly anybody who marries a tall person, or a short person, is
much motivated by what it will do to the frequency distribution of body height in the next generation. But the next generation's notions of what is tall and what is short will be affected
by whether in this generation tall people marry tall people and
short people short, or tall and short marry each other, or everybody marries at random.
Equilibrium Analysis
In a moment I am going to argue that there is no presumption that the self-serving behavior of individuals should usually
lead to collectively satisfactory results. Economics covers a
special case-a large and important special case, but a special
case-and I am going to identify what makes economics a special case.
But before that I need to dispose of a false issue that gets
too much attention. A method of analysis that is common in
economics, common in biology, and common also in many of
the non-life-related sciences, is the study of "equilibria." An
equilibrium is a situation in which some motion or activity or
adjustment or response has died away, leaving something stationary, at rest, "in balance," or in which several things that
have been interacting, adjusting to each other and to each
other's adjustment, are at last adjusted, in balance, at rest. If
you pour cream in your coffee there will be one kind of "equilibrium" when the surface has stopped rippling, and another
when the cream is either dispersed evenly through the coffee
or floating as a film on the surface. In economics there is an
"equilibrium" distribution of Christmas trees, relative to the
demand for Christmas trees, if prices are similar enough from
city to city, or city to suburb, so that nobody can make money
by moving trees from downtown to the suburbs or from
Albany to Buffalo. There is equilibrium in the market for gasoline if prices from place to place do not differ more than transport costs between those places, and if the average price is one
at which the amount of gasoline that people are willing to buy
is in balance with the amount that producers can profitably
put on the market. And so forth.
An equilibrium can be exact or approximate. It can be
always approached but never quite achieved, the potential
equilibrium itself continually changing. And equilibrium can
be partial or more complete, short run or long run. Christmas
trees can be in balance among the cities, but an overall oversupply means that shippers of Christmas trees will lose money
this year and next year fewer trees will be provided and the
market mayor may not be in equilibrium by next year or the
year after.
The point to make here is that there is nothing particularly
attractive about an equilibrium. An equilibrium is simply a
_ result.
It is what is there after something has settled down, if
something ever does settle down. The idea of equilibrium is an
acknowledgment that there are adjustment processes; and
unless one is particularly interested in how dust settles, one
can simplify analysis by concentrating on what happens after
the dust has settled. In Malthusian analysis, the population is
"in equilibrium" when the supply of food and other natural
resources is so meager, relative to the population, that a low
birthrate and a high death rate keep the population stationary.
A public beach in the summertime is in equilibrium when it is
so crowded that it is no longer attractive to anyone who might
have wanted to go to the beach, but not. quite so unattractive
that the people who are already there give up and go home.
The world's whale population is in equilibrium when the
remaining whales are so few that hardly anybody can catch
enough to make a good business out of it, and the few whalers
who have nothing better to do are just able to catch enough
whales to offset the new births in the small population. Highway speeds are in equilibrium vis-a-vis the state police when
arrests are just frequent enough to offset the urge. to drive a
little faster. And so forth.
There may be many things wrong with "equilibrium analysis," including the possibility that it oversimplifies by neglecting processes of adjustment, or exaggerates the prevalence of
equilibrium by neglecting shifts in the parameters that determine the equilibrium. But nobody should resist "equilibrium
analysis" for fear that, if he acknowledges that something is in
equilibrium, he will have acknowledged that something is all
right. The body of a hanged man is in equilibrium when it
finally stops swinging, but nobody is going to insist that the
man is all right. An unnecessary source of distrust of economic
analysis is the assumption that when an economist discusses
equilibrium he is exp~essing approval. I believe that assumption is usually-not always, but usually-a mistake.
The difference between economics and those other social
phenomena will not, therefore, be a difference in the mode of
analysis, and especially will not be that the one deals with
equilibrium systems, rightly or wrongly, and the others do not.
An economist would describe the seating pattern in our auditorium in terms of equilibria just as he would the market for air
conditioning. The seating pattern is an equilibrium if, considering where everybody else is sitting, nobody is motivated to
move to another seat. Calling it an equilibrium does not imply
that everybody-or even anybody-likes the seating arrangement, only that nobody alone can do better by changing to any
available seat. Nor does it imply that there are not alternative
seating patterns, very different ones, that could also be equilibria.
Exchanges and Other Transactions
To identify what makes economics a large and important
special case, rather than a model for all social phenomena, let
me remind you of the particular characteristics of all of these
behavior systems that I am trying to focus on. It is that people
are impinging on other people and adapting to other people.
What people do affects what other people do. How well
people accomplish what they want to accomplish depends on
what others are doing. How you drive depends on how others
drive; where you park depends on where others park. Your
vocabulary and your pronunciation depend on the vocabularies and accents of others. Whom you marry depends on whom
you meet, who will marry you, and who is already married. If
your problem is that there is too much traffic, you are part of
the problem. If you join a crowd because you like crowds, you
add to the crowd. If you withdraw your child from school because of the pupils he goes to school with, you remove a pupil
that they go to school with. If you raise your voice to make
yourself heard, you add to the noise that other people are
raising their voices to be heard above. When you cut your hair
short you change, ever so slightly, other people's impressions
of how long people are wearing their hair.
Sometimes you care what it is that the others are doing:
you wish fewer were driving when the traffic gets thick. Sometimes you don't care but you need to adapt: it doesn't matter
whether you have the right-of-way going uphill or downhill, as
long as you know who has the right-of-way. Usually you both
care and are influenced. (If you neither care nor are influenced, then it's outside what this book is about.)
Now for what is special about economics. Economics is
mainly concerned with transactions in which everybody
affected is a voluntary participant. The epitome is trading vegetables for eggs over the back fence. On certain conditions,
this is a "good thing." You wouldn't do it unless you wanted
the eggs more than the vegetables and your neighbor wouldn't
unless he wanted the vegetables more than the eggs. Nobody
else cares or needs to know whether you have a hard boiled
egg or a lettuce-and-tomato sandwich for lunch.
Of course this is an exaggeration:
Eggs may have more cholesterol than is good for you.
Your neighbor may steal eggs because he knows that you'll
trade vegetables for them.
Somebody may believe that chicken farms are cruel.
The neighbor who traded with you may have known that
the egg was diseased.
And, when he cooks the cabbage you traded him, the family upstairs may be offended by the smell.
Still, the traditional subject of economics has been voluntary exchanges, exchanges that do not have major implications
for all the people who do not participate in the transaction and
who have no opportunity to veto it. If anybody affected is part
of the transaction; if the transaction is voluntary and anybody
who legitimately objects can veto it; if the transaction is easy
to recognize and people know their own interests, so that interested parties can protect their interests by participa.ting or
blocking the transaction; if people do not make themselves
vulnerable to theft and extortion and the like when they manifest an interest in the transaction; if the people who bring
their vegetables to market will be protected against theft; and,
if the law will prevent people from improperly creating
demand for their products by poisoning other people's chickens, then there is a lot to be said for treating "free-market
exchange" as a good thing. At least it is a good thing if we
think it a good thing for people to have more of what they like
when they can have it at nobody else's expense.
There are a lot of requirements for making the free market
work well, or even work at all. In addition to physical protection and contract enforcement, there has to be a lot of shopping around so that people know what trades are available, or
enough information so that without shopping around people
know what to expect when they buy or sell. Behind a typical
free market is centuries of patient development of property
rights and other legal arrangements, and an extraordinary
standardization of goods and services and the terminology for
describing them. Think of all the things you can actually purchase by telephone, confident that you will get what you asked
for or be able to tell the difference at a glance. A lot of legal
and institutional arrangements are designed to protect the
rights of people who might, though affected by a transaction,
be left out of it.
Economists are aware of a multitude of reasons why markets may not work to everybody's satisfaction. I have mentioned some. People lack the knowledge to shop around for
medical care. It is hard to tell a good secondhand auto from a
bad one, or a fraudulent repair job from an honest one. It is
hard to sell a secret without giving it away. Some markets are
easily monopolized, and economists don't expect monopolized
markets to work well. In identifying these problem cases, economists customarily ask why it is that the market doesn't work,
and they have a pretty good checklist to help them in their
diagnoses. The market for brave watchmen will fail if the obligation to be brave in an emergency is unenforceable; for life
insurance if the insurance company cannot tell who the highrisk customers are but the high-risk customers know; for
cancer medicine if people are misinformed or superstitious
about what will cure their aflliction, or easily mistaken about
whether they have the disease; for dangerous machinery if
people are ignorant of the dangers; for broadcast news and
weather reports if everybody can listen free of charge; for
public swimming pools if users cannot be monitored against
fouling the pool; for betting on sports events if heavy bettors
can interfere in the health and safety of the players; for telephone service if some part of the enterprise has to be consolidated into a single interconnected network, hence a monopoly;
for right-of-way at an intersection because the drivers of competing cars and trucks have no way to communicate offers and
Notice that in all these cases there was some initial reason
to expect that the market might work. Upon inspection it turns
out that although the market indeed can work for certain kinds
of medicine and certain kinds of information and certain kinds
of insurance and certain kinds of performance contracts, it
might not work, or not work well, for these particular kinds,
for reasons that can be analytically diagnosed.
There are also the markets we don't like that work entirely
too well; for example, the market for stolen goods, which
encourages burglary, the markets for votes and fixed traffic
tickets and political favors and falsified inspection certificates,
even a market for kidnapped businessmen-things that are not
supposed to be for sale.
I'll complain if nobody buys my book, especially if somebody writes a better one and gets all the business, but I probably shouldn't blame that on "the market." When I mentioned
that economics is mainly concerned with market transactions
in which everybody affected is a voluntary participant I should
have mentioned a qualification: if you buy somebody else's
book, I may feel "affected" by the transaction because the
alternative I had in mind was selling you my book instead. I
can wish that people wanted, and would pay for, the things I
have to offer, and would offer me, at attractive prices, the
things I would like to buy; but this is more like wishing for
transactions that didn't occur than objecting to some that did.
What the market is often so good at doing is only part of
what happens in the market. While coordinating activities
efficiently, the market may produce a distribution of income
that you and I do not like, either in general, or just because of
where it leaves us. This is why I invited only your amazement,
not your admiration, of what the market can perform (or, even
if your admiration, not necessarily your unqualified approval).
But now look at an activity that at first glance is like a
"market activity" but upon closer inspection isn't. To make my
point I'll choose a non-controversial illustration familiar to
most of us, the "non-market" for Christmas cards. There is a
literal market for Christmas cards-a market for buying them,
and a federally monopolized market for sending them by mail.
But I mean the choosing of whom to send a card to, what kind
of card, how expensive, by what date to mail it, whether to
pen a message, and what to do about non-Christian addressees. In addition to personal greetings we have canIs from
teachers to students and students to teachers, elected officials
to their constituents and insurance salesmen to their policyholders, and, of course, from your paperboy or papergirl.
My impression-and I've found nobody who doesn't share
it-is that the sending of Christmas cards is an "interactive
process" greatly affected by custom and by expectations of
what others expect and what others may send, by cards
received (and not received) last year and already received this
year, conditioned of course by the cost of cards and postage
and the labor as well as the fun or nuisance of selecting cards
and penning inscriptions.
People feel obliged to send cards to people from whom
they expect to receive them, often knowing that they will
receive them only because the senders expect to receive cards
in return. People sometimes send cards only because, cards
having been sent for several years, cessation might signal
something. People send cards early to avoid the suspicion that
they were sent only after one had already been received. Students send cards to teachers believing that other students do.
Sensible people who might readily agree to stop bothering
each other with Christmas cards find it embarrassing, or not
quite wort!! the trouble, to reach such agreement. (If they
could, they might be so pleased that they would celebrate by
sending "voluntary" cards, falling back into the trapl )
My casual inquiry suggests widespread if not unanimous
opinion that the system has some of the characteristics of a
trap. Even people who, on balance, like Christmas cards find
parts of the system ludicrous, preposterous, or downright infuriating. Some wish the whole institution could be wiped out.
Some wish for a "bankruptcy" proceeding in which all Christmas-card lists could be obliterated so people could start over,
motivated only by friendship and holiday spirit, without accumulated obligations.
Nobody claims that the system reaches optimal results.
Even if everybody guesses correctly the cards he will receive,
and ends the holiday season with no regrets for the cards he
sent and the cards he didn't send, the outcome is a long way
from ideal. And there isn't much that anybody can do about it.
Fortunately, it doesn't matter much.
At first glance someone might call this exchange of greetings a "free market activity." But "exchange" is an ironic metaphor. And "market" is a remote and unhelpful analogy. Things
don't work out optimally for a simple reason: there is no
reason why they should. There is no mechanism that attunes
individual responses to some collective accomplishment.
It cannot even be argued that if the whole system worked
badly enough it would become extinct. There is no mechanism
that would induce people to stop sending cards merely
because everybody, like everybody else, deplored the system
and wished it would disappear.
There was a time when wise people thought planets should
revolve in circles. When observation showed incontrovertibly
that they did not, the question was asked, "Why not?» People
tried to figure what kept the planets from displaying perfect
circles. In the end it was realized that, in accordance with the
laws of motion and gravitation, there never had been any reasons to expect circles. Circles were not the norm; ellipses were.
When we ask why the "free market" in Christmas cards
doesn't lead to optimal exchange, the answer is that it is not a
market and there was no reason to expect optimal results in
the first place. The free market, when it works, is that special
case of knowledgeable voluntary exchange of alienable commodities. Only some ellipses are circles.
Contrived Markets and Partial Markets
. I must add two qualifications, one that enlarges the scope
for market arrangements and one that reduces it. The first is
that it is often possible, by legal and institutional innovation,
to endow activities with the characteristics that make markets.
The legal invention of "copyright" makes the written word a
marketable commodity. Just as a woodcutter wouldn't cut
wood if bystanders were free to carry it away as fast as he cut
it, writers might not write if people could freely copy everything they so painfully and skillfully compose. Property law
doesn't let me pick your vegetables and give them to my
friends; by extending the concept of "property" to original
compositions, the law does not permit me to sell a copy of
what you have written until you sell me the right to do it.
The beach that is so overcrowded on a hot day that many
people are not attracted and some leave in disgust (and even
those that remain don't enjoy it much) can be better exploited
by the people to whom the beach belongs if attendance is regulated by an admission fee, the proceeds accruing to the people
whose beach it is. Or admissions can be rationed among
beachgoers, in numbers calculated to enhance the collective
enjoyment of the beach, with people who adore bathing free to
buy admissions from people who would rather have more
money than swim.
These are not "free-market arrangements." They require
the intervention of some authority to set up a system of management. But the system is modelled on market principles.
Creating something like a market is a principle of wide usefulness. But is far from universally applicable. It works with the
crowds at public beaches but not with the crowds that gather
to watch a building burn, obstructing the firefighters aQd causing the building to burn more brightly. Copyright laws will
not keep people from passing malicious rumors, or spoiling a
suspense movie by telling its ending.
The second qualification is that markets often appear to
work toward greater harmony than they do. Some social consequences have been left out of account. A market appears to do
a pretty good job of allocating houses and apartments to
people who need places to live. But it matches people only
with living quarters, not with neighbors; the demographic,
ethnic, and cultural patterns of living will be determined in
the entire interactive process of choosing homes and neighbors
and neighborhoods. The market transactions involve only the
landlord and tenant.
The market may appear to work well for the production
and distribution of perfumes, deodorants, and portable radios,
but there is no market which determines their use or non-use
by locally interested parties.
The market for pets does not reflect the interest of bird
lovers in the market for cats, or of cat lovers in the market for
dogs, or the interest of people who walk sidewalks in the
market for animals that foul the footpath. Indeed, the interactive phenomenon of pet ownership, and the training and management and mismanagement of pets, is an extensive social
activity of which only a modest part shows up in the market
for animals, animal food, veterinary services, and, occasionally,
Of all the activities that fall within my subject one of the
most important is on the borderline of "market arrangements."
That is marriage. Aside from everything else that it is, marriage
in this country is a voluntary contractual arrangement between
people who are free to shop around. The parties most affected
are the two who make the contract. Each offers something
complementary to the other, and there is expected an economical division of labor. The relationship is asymmetrical in many
ways; but so are the contractual relations between people and
their nursemaids, housekeepers, business partners, mountaineering guides, tutors, pilots, and income-tax accountants.
There is more here than just a remote analogy with long-term
bilateral exclusive-service contracts. The legal status is somewhat contractual and becoming more so; and one can imagine
secular societies in which marriage would be assimilated to
contract law. To refuse on sentimental or religious grounds to
acknowledge this is to miss an important characteristic of getting married.
But to treat it as just another private long-term reciprocal
exclusive-service contract would be to miss even more important characteristics of marriage. Except for the very rich, the
very famous, and sometimes the ethnically loyal, marriage is
very privately motivated. The marriage choice is constrained
by language, religion, geography, and education, but people
get married because they want to and the selection of a mate
is not part of a genetic or cultural plan. Yet marital choices in
the aggregate have enormous influence on the genetic. religious, linguistic, socio-economic, and geographical makeup of
the next generation. Marriage itself, children aside, affects language and religion and social mobility and the dispersion or
concentration of tastes and habits and customs. Even the
unmarried are greatly influenced by the frequency of marriage
in their age group. Racial and religious separatism are drastically affected by the racial and religious makeup of married
couples. Economic and occupational mobility are affected by
the matching or non-matching in marriage of income levels
and occupational backgrounds, skills and talents and intelligence, disabilities and handicaps.
The social consequences of marriage make this activity one
of the central phenomena in the landscape of social science.
The fact that it is in important respects a market process only
informs us about one of its dimensions.
Interactive Behaviors
It is time to give a more extensive enumeration of social
activities of the kind I have been discussing. To begin, go back
to the audience in the auditorium and branch out from there.
That audience was an example of spatial distribution. Besides
auditoriums it occurs in the way people distribute themselves
on beaches or toward the front of a bus, in the way people
who push out of a crowded theatre stand idly on the sidewalk
afterwards blocking the egress of the people still pushing out
of the theatre, the way people congregate at standup parties
and receptions, and the way people form crowds at a rally, a
riot, or a spectacle. On a larger scale it shows up in residential
patterns. In motion it occurs in racing for the exit in a baseball
park or evacuating the parking lot after the ball game, in the
spacing of cars on a highway, and in the arrival times of
people who form queues to board a plane or to take seats at a
There is no single mode of behavior that covers all these
cases. Sometimes people want to be close, sometimes spread
out; the people on the edge of a crowd may be pushing to get
in and the people in the middle are being crushed. If everybody likes to be in the middle of a crowd, the crowd will be
dense; if everybody prefers to be on the edge of a crowd, the
crowd will be dispersed, and may even fail to be a crowd.
More complex is the behavior of people who want to be
close to or distant from particular kinds of other people.
People get separated and integrated by sex, race, age, language, dress or social status, or by patterns of acquaintance
and friendship. The motives of individuals can lead to striking
and unexpected collective results.
At many colleges that have recently become co-educational,
or have recently given up segregating the sexes, the question
arises, how might the men and the women distribute themselves among the several dormitories or dining rooms if they
were free to choose the ratios of men and women that they
prefer to live with? At Harvard in the 1970s there were a
dozen houses for a population one-third women. A quite limited set of possibilities is consistent with these numbers. Four
houses could be filled with women, eight with men. Twelve
houses could be one-third women. Eight houses could be half
and half with the other four all men. One house could be for
women, four half and half, three houses two to one, and four
all men. And so forth.
Insight can be obtained even by supposing only two
houses. Make it dining halls rather than sleeping quarters, and
suppose either hall can hold most of the population if packed
in tightly. How will the men and women distribute themselves
between the two dining halls if they are free to choose
between the male-female ratios in these two locations.
In the easiest case, all the men and all the women prefer a
one to one ratio and will choose the dining room in which the
numbers are most nearly equal. Suppose that there are 120
women and 100 men, that the women have to choose in
advance, and that everybody knows that everybody prefers
The women expect the men to distribute themselves proportionately to the women in the two dining rooms, and, if the
women don't like overcrowding, they distribute themselves
equally between the two rooms.
Now the men arrive, and by the time three-quarters of
them have arrived there may be 40 in one hall and 35 in the
other. The later arrivals notice a slight discrepancy and choose
the dining room with the more nearly equal number. In one
room there are 60 women and 40 men, and in the other 60 and
35. The room with 40 men is slightly more attractive, and the
next arrivals go there, and now there are 50 men in that room,
35 in the other. The difference is now more noticeable, and the
next 10 men enter the hall with more men and there are 60 men
and 60 women in that one, 35 men and 60 women in the other.
The last 5 men much prefer the room with more men, and
they make it 60 to 65 in that room, leaving it 60 to 35 in the
If men in the other room are now free to change their
minds, maybe 10 of them will consider it worth the trouble to
get up and change rooms, the near equality in the other room
being appreciably better than the almost 1:2 ratio where they
are. When the 10 arrive in the other room they change the
ratio there to 75:60, spoiling the near equality, but leaving it
25:60 in the room they left, where some more men, now outnumbered nearly 3: 1, prefer to go where the ratio is 5:4.
Another 15 change rooms, leaving behind 10 men at a ratio of
6:1, making it 90:60 in the crowded room. Three to two is
better than 6 to 1, so the last 10 go to the crowded room, raising the ratio there to 100:60.
The final score: all the men, preferring 50:50, have
achieved 100:60. Half the women are outnumbered 1.6 to 1
and the other half will dine without men. No man will move.
If we forceably moved 40 men to the all-woman dining
hall, all the men would enjoy a more satisfactory ratio, and so
would all the women. But the 40 won't stay: the room with
more men is always more attractive, even though both become
less attractive as men migrate to the more attractive ratio.
At last the women committed to the dining room in which
there are no men will insist on moving too, and everybody
ends up in a very crowded room.
This quick illustration-an example, incidentally, of "equilibrium analysis" -is not for drawing conclusions. It is here to
stimulate curiosity. Because association and proximity-in resi-
dence or social gatherings or working places, even marriageare such pervasive phenomena, in later chapters we explore
processes by which people become mixed or separated in
accordance with age, income, sex, race, or language.
Marriage has been discussed as an example of the phenomena we are discussing, but some additional dimensions are
worth mentioning. Age at marriage, and age differences
between spouses, are affected by the ages at which others
marry. Divorce and the prospects of remarriage depend on
whether there is a high rate of turnover in particular age
brackets. Especially if divorced people are likely to marry
divorced people, a high divorce rate can make divorce more
Language is an almost completely adaptive behavior. What
language a person speaks depends on what languages he
encounters, particularly within his own family. But the concentration and dispersion of languages in bilingual or linguistically separated countries like Canada, Finland, Switzerland,
and earlier Israel or the United States, display trends that,
though somewhat guided and sanctioned and stimulated by
schools, government, broadcasting and signposting, result from
individual decision and response. Accent, grammar and vocabulary are even more individualist in origin, slang being an outstanding example.
Each academic profession can study the development of its
own language. Some terms catch on and some don't. A hastily
chosen term that helps to meet a need gets imitated into the
language before anybody notices what an inappropriate term
it is. People who recognize that a term is a poor one use it
anyway in a hurry to save thinking of a better one, and in
collective laziness we let inappropriate terminology into our
language by default. Terms that once had accurate meanings
become popular, become carelessly used, and cease to communicate with accuracy. Sometimes a nugget is discovered, a
word freighted with just the right set of meanings to meet a
real need and to be popularly elected into the vocabulary. I
invite you to read on with an ear alert for examples of the
good, the bad, and the ugly.
Like language are the communication systems that develop
out of the unmanaged behaviors of individuals-the diffusion
of rumor, gossip, and news, information and misinformation
about sex and cooking and gardening and automobile repair;
the circulation of jokes and stories and folklore; and the rules
for playing games and adjudicating disputes. Everybody who
participates in a communication system is part of the system.
His participation maintains it or repairs it or transforms it or,
sometimes, helps to cause it to wither away or collapse. People
who pass along tips on the stock market or the horse races,
where-to-get-it-wholesale, what movies to see or what restaurants to patronize, how to avoid getting caught, whom to date,
and where to go for help, are simultaneously involved in two
related activities. They are transmitting particular information
over the network; and they are exercising the network.
Information networks, racial separation, marital behavior,
and language development are often overlapping and interlocking. It is commonly observed that the work force of a shop
or store or taxi company or motel is homogeneous. Whether it
is Irish or Italian, Cuban or Puerto Rican, black or white, Protestant or Catholic, the homogeneity suggests purpose or
design. But the determinant is likely to be a communication
network. Positions are filled by people who learn of openings;
people learn of the openings from acquaintances who already
work there; acquaintances are from the same schools and
neighborhoods and families and churches and clubs. And, the
nearest thing to a guarantee that a new employee can have is
an older employee who vouches for him.
I cannot resist digressing to describe an instance of segregation in which I used to participate. On birthdays I occasionally took a group of youngsters to watch the Red Sox. The
second or third time I noticed, and confirmed the fourth and
fifth time, that I sat in a section full of people who were
remarkably like us-in their colors, accents, behavior, and
dress. There was no overt segregation. The seats cost the same,
so I wasn't sitting among people who could afford the seats I
could afford. There were ten ticket windows, and the lines at
all the windows were a mixture of young and old, black and
white, male and female, well-dressed and poorly dressed, noisy
and quiet. Why did we always end up sitting among people
like us?
It was years before I learned the answer. Birthday parties
require coordination, so I bought seats in advance. I bought
them at the Harvard Square subway station. Most people want
seats together, and the ticket agent will have fewer odd tickets
left over if he gets a block of seats to begin with. So I sat with
the people who bought tickets from the same block-with the
people who bought seats in advance at Harvard Square. (My
story stops there, but there are exciting tales of people whose
romances got stalted because they used the same Laundromat.)
To continue with our listing, the subject includes systems
of deference, etiquette, social status, and hierarchy. It includes
"street behavior"-being on the streets or staying off; staring
ahead or nodding hello; asking for directions, matches, the
time of day, or spare change; and carrying weapons. It
includes the formation of mobs and riots, panic behavior, rules
of the road, traffic conventions, and the signals and insignia by
which people recognize each other. It includes style and taste,
hairstyles and cosmetics, clothing styles and jewelry, patterns
of eating and drinking, coffee breaks and cocktail hours,
tobacco, marijuana, littering and jaywalking, obeying and disobeying the law, and coming or not coming to help if somebody
is in distress.
I want to avoid any suggestion that there is some single
mechanism that underlies all of these behaviors. Quite the contrary. In some cases people want to conform, in others they
want to be different. Sometimes there is immunity in numbers
-jaywalking or smoking marijuana or double-parking (the police cannot afford to ticket all the illegally parked cars if there
are many of them) -and other times too large a crowd spoils
the fun. Sometimes people need to share a clandestine activity,
and the outcome depends on whether there are penalties for
revealing yourself to a stranger. Sometimes people want to
associate with others who are older or richer or higher-ranked
or who play better bridge or tennis; in other circumstances
people are comfortable being older or richer or better; and
sometimes the best is to be right in the middle. If everybody
wants to stay home and watch the crowds in Times Square on
television there will be no crowds in Times Square, while if
everybody wants to join the crowd to be seen on television
there will be nobody watching.
In the next chapter we examine a special class, an especially interesting class, of behavior patterns. These are patterns
that have the characteristic of tending to be realized in the
aggregate no matter how the individuals behave who comprise
the aggregates. Musical chairs is an example: no matter how
alert and aggressive the children are, one will be left chairless
when the music stops. Poker is another: winnings and losings
add to zero (less what one must pay for sandwiches) no
matter how shrewdly people play their cards. Anyone of us
can get rid of Canadian quarters by passing them on, but
collectively we cannot. A tenth of the students are always at
the bottom 10 percent. And if you add up all the white neighbors of every black person in Boston, and add up the black
neighbors of every white person in Boston, the numbers are
identical as long as you are careful to use the same definitions
of "neighbor," "Boston," "black," and "white," and to take both
counts at the same time.
In Chapter 3 we shall look at a half dozen common models
of behavior that social scientists use for insight into some of
these processes. The number of different mechanisms is large
but many recur repeatedly in widely different areas of activity.
Some of these recurring models have proper names (reflecting
the "naming phenomenon" I discussed earlier): "self-fulfilling
prophecy," "critical mass," "the commons," "the market for
lemons," the "acceleration principle." My purpose in leading
you into this subject will be clearer, if it is not transparent yet,
after I have done my best in Chapter 3 to demonstrate the usefulness of some of the models that have been developed for
exploring this rich and complicated subject.
Chapters 4 and 5 will then illustrate this mode of analysis
in some detail by examining processes of "sorting and mixing,"
segregation and integration. Hardly any choices are as interactive and interdependent as the choice of whom to associate
with, live with, work with, or play with, eat with or drink with
or sit beside. Chapter 4 focues on discrete classifications like
race, color, sex, or language; Chapter 5 deals with classification by "continuous" variables, like age, income, or level of
skill. Chapter 6 then looks at a set of choices that is not quite
available yet, choices that may become available and may be
drastically interdependent-like choosing the sex of one's children.
Finally, and more rigorously, Chapter 7 shows how some
formal theory can be built on these ideas. It is a more demanding chapter than the others, slower to read, less readily comprehended. Like reading blueprints, reading the diagrams of
that chapter can be mastered by almost anyone but only by
working at it. I know no easier way to gain access to this richly
variegated and universally significant subject. I hope the earlier chapters will have stirred the interest needed to attack and
conquer the last one. Through most of the first six chapters,
possibly excepting some diagrams toward the end of Chapter 4
and a little elementary algebra that shows up in Chapter 5, it
should be possible to move right along, pausing occasionally,
but more to reflect than to study. If you read Chapter 7 thinking it should be instantly transparent you will only become
discouraged. Reading diagrams is a little like learning a language; fluency comes only with practice. Readers familiar with
diagrammatic analysis from economics and elsewhere will still
have to pause over the diagrams of Chapter 7; readers not so
used to diagrams will have to pause a little longer. Just knowing that most of Chapter 7 is not meant to be instantly obvious
is probably all the help you need.

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